AirPods Live Listen: Hearing Aid or Spy Tool?

Discussion in 'iOS Blog Discussion' started by MacRumors, Jan 15, 2019.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Apple in iOS 12 introduced a new Live Listen feature that's designed to turn the iPhone into a remote microphone for the AirPods.

    Live Listen has been around for years for MFi-compatible hearing aids, but it's only with the addition of AirPods support that it became available for general iOS users.

    As an enterprising individual discovered on Reddit, the AirPods Live Listen feature can be used as a spying device because it uses the iPhone as a microphone and relays what the iPhone picks up to the AirPods, even if the AirPods are in another room.

    So, if you have AirPods (or any other Bluetooth headphones), you can enable Live Listen, leave your phone in one room, and then go into another room, with the iPhone available to relay any "secret" conversations. You do need to be in Bluetooth range, of course, but with AirPods, that can be a decent distance.

    We're sure no MacRumors readers are going to use this feature for nefarious purposes, but it's certainly a useful tidbit to be aware of. Live Listen can be enabled in Control Center by following these steps:
    1. Open the Settings app
    2. Tap on Control Center
    3. Tap Customize Controls
    4. Tap the "+" button next to "Hearing."
    Once that's enabled, open up the Control Center, tap on the little ear icon, and then tap Live Listen to turn it on. You'll be able to hear people who are speaking near your iPhone.

    Live Listen with AirPods, hearing aids, or other Bluetooth headphones is an invaluable tool for those who have hearing issues, but everyone should be aware that any iPhone can be turned into a remote listening device.

    Article Link: AirPods Live Listen: Hearing Aid or Spy Tool?
  2. Schwyz macrumors regular


    Apr 6, 2016
    Up a tree


    Ohh noo... absolutely not a chance. :)
  3. WilliamG macrumors G3

    Mar 29, 2008
    This was my first thought the second this feature was added to the iPhone. Surprised it has taken this long to become a news article. I’ve actually left friends gatherings to go the bathroom during a conversation, while continuing to be part of the conversation! :D
  4. rick987611 macrumors member

    Oct 28, 2008
    If you wanted to record a conversation there are many ways to do it more discreetly that don’t require you leaving a $700+ device with all your personal data away from you.
  5. Mizouse macrumors regular

    Nov 5, 2014
    I tested this out with my coworkers XS and airpods.

    It works.

    But if you’re that paranoid that someone could be listening in on your conversation, you can just pick up the phone and look for the red status icon on the top left of the phone.

    Assuming you can actually see the phone.
  6. TrulsZK macrumors member


    May 1, 2018
    Before the AirPods and live listen it has always been possible to leave the iPhone in another room and call/FaceTime the iPhone from another iPhone.

    Under General > Accessibility > Call Audio Routing (under Interaction) > Auto-Answer Calls, then you do not have to answer the call yourself. (Mute call as soon as you place the call to prevent sound coming out of the speaker)

    Use Do Not Disturb to only allow calls from Favourites (and only add numbers you want to be able to listen/spy), so calls from other people will be Declined, and go straight to Voicemail (if switched on)
  7. tbrewster macrumors newbie


    Jan 15, 2019
  8. subjonas macrumors 68000

    Feb 10, 2014
    Apple seems to be getting into the espionage business. We can use Apple Watch to spy with the iPhone camera, and now this. :D
    --- Post Merged, Jan 15, 2019 ---
    Oh so it’s not limited to AirPods or even headphones with the W chip—it’s all Bluetooth headphones (and wired headphones for older iPhones, I take it?)
  9. Starship67, Jan 15, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2019

    Starship67 Suspended


    Oct 28, 2017
    Leave your $1000+ iPhone alone on a table so you can eavesdrop on someones conversation deserves to have it jacked.
  10. DotCom2 macrumors 68040

    Feb 22, 2009
    Hmmmm I wonder how well this would have worked in the noisy restaurant we were in last night where our party of 6 couldn't hear each other with all the background noise?
  11. MadeTheSwitch macrumors 6502a


    Apr 20, 2009
    If you are going to leave a phone in the room, I don’t see what difference this makes compared to just using an audio recorder, pressing record and walking away which you’ve always been able to do. Unless it is something like the bathroom/keeping up with conversation case use mentioned above. But I would find it strange to wear Airpods with a group of friends like that. Still, interesting though.
  12. GrumpyMom macrumors 604


    Sep 11, 2014
    We should ONLY use this for nefarious purposes.
  13. sinsin07 macrumors 68040

    Mar 28, 2009
    While true it may have taken awhile to hit the news since this "feature" was available, this is not the first news store on the topic. It was mentioned in the news on 1/10/19:
    Apple AirPods let people SPY on you...
  14. C DM macrumors Sandy Bridge

    Oct 17, 2011
  15. japanime macrumors 68000


    Feb 27, 2006
    The sound you're hearing while eavesdropping on me when you leave the room? That's me "accidentally" knocking your unattended iPhone onto the concrete floor. :D
  16. daniel4 macrumors newbie

    Oct 6, 2009
    New York
    Anyone could just as easily do this with the voice memos app or any other app. It is nice to be able to hear the door when it is really hard for you to hear knocking otherwise.
  17. mmomega macrumors demi-god


    Dec 30, 2009
    DFW, TX
    Only a $1,000 ?
    You must be talking about that 6Plus

    now I'm wondering ..... How much does my car cost that I leave sitting outside of my house or in a parking lot unattended?
    ****, I have to run and make sure my house is still where I left it this morning!! What was I thinking leaving it all by itself?!

    the /sarcasm
    the /troofthough
  18. WilliamG macrumors G3

    Mar 29, 2008
    Not live, though. If there’s a discussion going on and I want to hear it live, voice memos isn’t going to cut it.
  19. FocusAndEarnIt macrumors 601


    May 29, 2005
    As a hearing aid wearer, it is certainly useful. One helpful tidbit that’s not necessarily obvious: when Live Listen is enabled, the system sound controls the level of the microphone input and range. If set on low, it’s microphone will nearly need to be next to the person’s mouth. If it’s on high, the mic is essentially a speaker phone.
  20. palmerc2 macrumors 68000


    Feb 29, 2008
    Los Angeles
    Laughs in espionage.
  21. Clix Pix, Jan 15, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019

    Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

    Oct 9, 2005
    8 miles from the Apple Store at Tysons (VA)
    Sorry, folks, but as someone who has been hearing-impaired since birth and who has been using various hearing aids since age six (which was a long time ago) I am a little taken-aback and maybe even a little offended at the terminology here in this thread, both in the title and the posts. I think some clarification is needed.

    IMO it is really inaccurate and incorrect, not to mention misuse, of the term "hearing aid" when used to describe someone's phone, Air Pods or any other device being set to pick up sounds and perhaps verbal conversations when the owner (an individual who presumably in fact has normal hearing) is elsewhere. As already indicated in the thread, such use of a digital device is actually just with the intent of hearing something that was not meant for one's ears at all, whether intentionally so or not. That is very different from a hearing-impaired individual who needs some assistance even just to hear everyday sounds with any clarity at all. A "hearing aid" has traditionally been a physical device worn on the head/in the ears specifically designed to assist someone who is hearing-impaired to be able to hear with whatever residual hearing they might have, perhaps even to be able to discern and interpret the spoken word. There are different types of hearing loss and different degrees of it, of course. People who are profoundly deaf do not usually benefit from standard hearing aids, while those who have hearing loss in varying degrees, whether congenital or developed later in life, may benefit to some extent, depending upon the cause of the hearing loss in the first place.

    This "live listen" feature that Apple offers can indeed be very useful to those who wear actual hearing aids, but please don't refer to it -- that particular feature -- as a "hearing aid," because it is not. It can work with actual physical digital hearing aids, as mentioned in the thread, but in and of itself it is not a "hearing aid" per se, especially when considering those who are not hearing-impaired, who don't need such assistance. With the use of Air Pods and a strategically placed iPhone, this is indeed merely a way of listening in on something -- i.e., a fancy new way for anyone with normal hearing (or with hearing assisted by actual hearing aids) to listen to things which may or may not be intended for them to hear at all.
  22. MarkKG macrumors newbie

    Sep 25, 2016
    Someone explain to me why this is news. Seems options are
    1) use the EarPods to live listen to a conversation -or-
    2) turn on voice memos to record and be able to listen to a conversation over and over again... not even needing to be within BT range of the phone.
  23. Gravydog316 macrumors 6502


    May 17, 2016
    Saskatchewan, Canada
    How am I supposed to rule the world when everyone knows plans?!

    Do you see James Bond's enemies telling him their secret plans?! Huh??
    oh, wait...
  24. rocketman80 macrumors newbie

    Jun 7, 2013
    You know what would be really crazy and an actual “spy mechanism scandal” ? Being able to use the AirPods themselves as hot mics and being able to transmit that incoming audio to a paired iPhone.
  25. deeddawg macrumors 604

    Jun 14, 2010
    For years anyone could leave their phone sitting somewhere with Voice Recorder running and listen to the audio later.

    I'm unsure how this is any different other than being live.

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